Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Tacitus.

The Ubii and Lingones were placed in the centre, the Batavian 77 cohorts on the right, and on the left the Bructeri and Tencteri.  Advancing, some by the hills and some by the path between the road and the river,[440] they took us completely by surprise.  So sudden was their onslaught that Cerialis, who had not spent the night in camp, was still in bed when he heard almost simultaneously that the fighting had begun and that the day was lost.  He cursed the messengers for their cowardice until he saw the whole extent of the disaster with his own eyes.  The camp had been forced, the cavalry routed, and the bridge over the Moselle, leading to the outskirts of the town, which lay between him and his army,[440] was held by the enemy.  But confusion had no terrors for Cerialis.  Seizing hold on fugitives, flinging himself without any armour into the thick of the fire, he succeeded by his inspired imprudence and the assistance of the braver men in retaking the bridge.  Leaving a picked band to hold it, he hurried back to the camp, where he found that the companies of the legions which had surrendered at Bonn and Novaesium[441] were all broken up, few men were left at their posts, and the eagles were all but surrounded by the enemy.  He turned on them in blazing anger, ’It is not Flaccus or Vocula that you are deserting.  There is no “treason” about me.  I have done nothing to be ashamed of, except that I was rash enough to believe that you had forgotten your Gallic ties and awakened to the memory of your Roman allegiance.  Am I to be numbered with Numisius and Herennius?[442] Then you can say that all your generals have fallen either by your hands or the enemy’s.  Go and tell the news to Vespasian, or rather, to Civilis and Classicus—­they are nearer at hand—­that you have deserted your general on the field of battle.  There will yet come legions who will not leave me unavenged or you unpunished.’

All he said was true, and the other officers heaped the same 78 reproaches on their heads.  The men were drawn up in cohorts and companies, since it was impossible to deploy with the enemy swarming round them, and, the fight being inside the rampart, the tents and baggage were a serious encumbrance.  Tutor and Classicus and Civilis, each at his post, were busy rallying their forces, appealing to the Gauls to fight for freedom, the Batavians for glory, and the Germans for plunder.  Everything, indeed, went well for the enemy until the Twenty-first legion, who had rallied in a clearer space than any of the others, first sustained their charge and then repulsed them.  Then, by divine providence, on the very point of victory the enemy suddenly lost their nerve and turned tail.  They themselves attributed their panic to the appearance of the Roman auxiliaries, who, after being scattered by the first charge, formed again on the hill-tops and were taken for fresh reinforcements.  However, what really cost the Gauls their victory was that they let their enemy alone and indulged in ignoble squabbles over the spoil.  Thus after Cerialis’ carelessness had almost caused disaster, his pluck now saved the day, and he followed up his success by capturing the enemy’s camp and destroying it before nightfall.

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Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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